NHL Power Rankings: 3 Reasons the Flyers Are Better in Goal Than the Capitals
Following their "Goaltending Carousel" in the 2011 Playoffs, the Flyers situation between the pipes was offseason issue #1 for GM Paul Holmgren.
Following a series of blockbuster trades that saw the team's Captain and leading goal-scorer both traded for a haul of more talented, bigger, faster, and younger players, the Flyers inked Ilya Bryzgalov to a 9-year, $51.5 million contract.
Not wanting to be outdone, the Capitals dealt talented but troubled backup Semyon Varlamov to the Avs for a pair of draft picks, clearing a roster spot for perennially under-appreciated Czech Tomas Vokoun.
Now that the dust has settled in both the birthplace and capital of our nation, which team's situation in goal reigns supreme?
Regular Season Statistics
Both Vokoun (35) and Bryzgalov (31) have had excellent regular-season careers, as their numbers demonstrate.
Vokoun has posted a 262-267-76 record with a 2.56 GAA and a SV% of 0.917.
Bryzgalov, on the other hand, boasts a 151-116-35 record with a 2.53 GAA and 0.916 SV%.
With both goaltenders putting up virtually identical GAAs and SV%s, the only factors left to consider are the number of games played and the quality of the team in front of the goaltender.
In terms of games played, Vokoun has nearly twice the number of games played (632 to 326) as Bryzgalov, despite being only four years older. Even if Bryzgalov were to average 60 regular-season games played (a reasonable assumption) for the next four seasons, he'd still be nearly 80 games short of Vokoun's current total. Any way you slice it, that's a lot of additional wear and tear on Vokoun's tires.
In terms of the quality of the team in front of each netminder, its fair to say that Bryzgalov has had the advantage, but not by as much as one might think. Few remember, but the Predators were a solid team from 2005-2008, with 106, 110, and 91 point seasons in those three years (the final season without Vokoun). Even the Panthers were a decent team for Vokoun's first two seasons in Florida, posting 85 and 91 points, respectively. After that, well, things fell apart in the Sunshine State. But it wasn't always bad.
Bryzgalov certainly enjoyed a much nicer situation in Anaheim, where he was the backup to then-good J.S. Giguere on a team with players like Scott Niedermayer, Chris Pronger, Ryan Getzlaf, etc. Goaltenders have played in worse situations. In Phoenix, Byrzgalov received his first real taste of life without two sure-fire Hall of Famers on his blueline, and performed fairly well given the situation. During his last two seasons, Bryzgalov has the most wins of any NHL netminder and has emerged as a consensus top-10 goaltender in the league (during that span).
Vokoun has a slightly better SV% and has played on some fairly bad teams, but we must not discount his time in Nashville, when he too played behind future Hall of Famers (Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, etc) and All-Star defenseman (Kimmo Timonen, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis).
Both goaltenders have had some playoff success, but neither has been exceptional.
Vokoun has posted a pedestrian 3-8 record with a 2.47 GAA, 0.922 SV%, and 1 SO.
Bryzgalov has posted a better 12-13 record with a 2.55 GAA, 0.917 SV%, and 3 SOs along with a Stanley Cup Ring earned while backing up G.S. Giguere in Anaheim.
The difference in wins can partially be explained by the fact that Bryzgalov was playing behind a very good Ducks team, boasting stars Chris Pronger, Scott Niedermayer, Ryan Getzlaf, and Teemu Selanne. Bryzgalov, however, was a backup for that team, playing in only 5 games during the 2007 playoffs. He posted a strong 3-1 record with a 2.25 GAA and 0.922 SV%. In the season previous (without Chris Pronger), he posted a spectacular 6-4 record with a 1.46 GAA and 0.944 SV%.
Vokoun also played on a pair of strong Predator teams, with the likes of Shea Weber, Kimmo Timonen, Ryan Suter, and Dan Hamhuis anchoring the blueline. Nashville also had a number of solid two-way offensive players, including Paul Kariya, JP Dumont, Peter Forsberg, Steve Sullivan, and Martin Erat. During that post-season, Vokoun posted a mediocre 1-4 record with a 2.96 GAA and 0.902 save percentage.
The biggest factor here is Bryzgalov's demonstrated ability to elevate his level of play when it matters most. Both netminders have played behind exceptional teams, and only one has earned a coveted Stanley Cup Ring and playoff experience beyond the first round.
Contract and Cap Hit
Vokoun is signed to a very favorable one-year, $1.5 million contract. Bryzgalov, on the other hand, is signed to a massive 9-year, $51.5 million contract with a $5.667 million cap hit.
In terms of pure dollars spent, the Capitals have a huge advantage. Vokoun is basically playing for less than 30% of his market value. Bryzgalov, in contrast, is playing at market value for a top-10 netminder in the NHL. The $4.167 difference is significant, to be sure, but in perspective, it's basically Ville Leino's or Tomas Fleischmann's salary.
However, in terms of long-term franchise stability, the Flyers have the clear advantage. Bryzgalov is signed long-term to a reasonable cap hit without a No-Trade Clause (NTC) or No-Movement Clause (NMC). After the 2011-2012 season, Vokoun will be an unrestricted free agent and will (most likely) not be taking another massive pay cut. Once he leaves, the Capitals will either have to turn to the young and talented Michal Neuvirth or try and re-sign Vokoun at a much higher cap hit.
If the Capitals plan was to go with Neuvirth in 2012-2013, it makes little sense to prevent him from making valuable starts against NHL competition after he demonstrated he was more than capable in 2010-2011. Signing Vokoun for one season only to turn the reigns back over to their young netminder not only undermines his confidence but hinders his development as well.
The biggest factor here is long-term stability. The Flyers went into the 2011 offseason with the goal of acquiring a difference maker in net. They managed to achieve that goal without overpaying and without committing themselves to a NTC or NMC.
The Capitals managed to acquire a very good starting goaltender for a very reasonable price, but they did not find a long-term solution. The Vokoun signing is certainly great for 2011-2012 but beyond that, who knows?